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  Oct 25, 2001

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SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: Time for Vince to pass the torch
By JOHN POWELL -- SLAM! Wrestling

Sometimes you never know what the reaction will be when you send an idea out into the public domain for scrutiny. In Sunday's No Mercy pay-per-view report I suggested that for the good of the World Wrestling Federation and for the good of the industry as a whole Vince McMahon should retire. After making such a bold statement I expected to be flooded with email barbecuing my hide. Much to my surprise, most of you who took the time to collect your thoughts and send them along agreed with me. The general consensus seemed to be that Vince has lost touch with the fans and that his management of the World Wrestling Federation over the last year has critically damaged the company and its product.

Some of you who responded demanded that I apologize for my comments. Since I sincerely meant what I wrote, I will do no such thing. What I will do is properly explain why it is I feel that the man whose innovative ideas forever changed pro-wrestling as we know it, should finally hand over the reins he has held so tightly for so long to someone who, unlike Vince, has a refreshing approach.

With the year 2001 coming to an end, let me start by examining the state of the WWF at this point in time and how the choices authorized by Vince McMahon himself have cost the company dearly. First up, the XFL debacle. Though everyone and their mother-in-law knew the upstart football league had no chance in hell of surviving its first season, Vince still rolled the dice. He lost and did so in a big way. The gross misjudgment forced a fourth-quarter loss of $20.4 million and cut full-year profits in 2001 to about a third of the previous year's earnings for the WWF. The folding of the XFL cost McMahon $35 million and closer to $50 million for NBC. That ain't chump change, folks. Even to a rich man like Vince McMahon.

During a press conference in May announcing the demise of the XFL Vince McMahon himself said: "There was a misunderstanding with the media of what (viewers could) expect. That was another failing on my part. Could I have been a little more gracious? Well, I've gotta be me. I am who I am whether I'm arrogant or straightforward. I would put no blame on the media, this is all on my shoulders. It was my vision. The buck stops with me, ultimately."

Battered and bruised from the XFL fiasco, McMahon, who had bought his rival World Championship Wrestling and hired much of Extreme Championship Wrestling's talent months earlier, embarked on what is thought to be the mother of all wrestling angles: WCW and ECW versus the WWF. In absorbing his competition, Vince has the most highly-anticipated storyline in his very hands but much like the XFL, McMahon and his braintrust of bookers fumbled this venture as well. The dream matches fans have waited a lifetime for didn't materialize and the storyline becomes so muddled and monotonous that even the embarrassed WWF lost interest in really promoting it for awhile.

The fallout matched with a decline in the popularity of pro-wrestling has hit the Federation hard on all fronts with even devoted wrestling fans shunning lackluster WWF programming. Ratings for the WWF's flagship shows Raw and Smackdown! were hammered. Though it was predicted by many that moving from the USA Network to TNN would allow Raw to reach more households and therefore increase the show's ratings, that did not happen. While Raw has boosted TNN's status as a whole, Raw's ratings did not surge ahead. To give you some idea of how the mighty have fallen, in July, Raw drew a 5.4 rating. Last week's rating was a 3.5. The drop in the ratings for Raw factored into a decision by The National Network and its parent company ViaCom not to grant the WWF a second wrestling show on TNN devoted to WCW and ECW stars. WWF CEO Linda McMahon said at the time of the decision that the WWF didn't believe that the current advertising market would cover the production costs of running another wrestling show. She also claimed that the WWF was planning on airing three or four WCW pay-per-views this year and running some WCW house shows. It is now October and none of these propositions have yet to materialize.

Smackdown!, once the Number One rated show on UPN, has fallen on hard times as well. In August of last year, Smackdown! was bringing in a staggering 6.3 rating. This week's ratings were a gloomy 3.6 tying it with (of all things) the WB's Dawson's Creek.

Unnerved by the ratings slide months ago, the WWF blamed Internet sites for revealing Smackdown! happenings beforehand and therefore dealing a severe blow to the weekly ratings. The WWF did run some live Smackdown! broadcasts this year to prove their point. The ratings did not increase as predicted. Losing some of its pull with the network, the WWF even agreed in September to move its Thursday Smackdown! broadcast in order to accommodate the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. The introduction of Star Trek Enterprise and Buffy The Vampire Slayer has also played havoc with Smackdown!'s status on UPN. Star Trek: Enterprise is now the network's highest rated show.

What is also interesting is that the WWF no longer enjoys a "spike" in the ratings before a pay-per-view or when they announce that someone of note will be appearing on Smackdown! or Raw.

The decline in interest has also brought the WWF's regular house show attendance, merchandise sales and pay-per-view buyrates down as well. In August it was reported that attendance at WWF events saw a 32 per cent decrease, revenues from live events dropped 19.9 per cent, merchandise tumbled by 31.5 per cent and TV advertising revenue was down 17 per cent.

As far as the pay-per-view buyrates go some stats are, The Royal Rumble rated a 1.88 in 1999, 1.6 in 2000 and 1.35 in 2001. King Of The Ring got a 1.13 in 1999, 1.19 in 2000 and a 0.96 in 2001. WrestleMania garnered a 2.32 in 1999, 2.35 in 2000 and a 2.18 in 2001. Invasion, the much-hyped mega card which featured the WWF going against ECW and WCW only managed a 1.63 buyrate. The Judgment Day 2001 show scored the lowest of a WWF pay-per-view since 1998's Over The Edge broadcast. Judgment Day got a 0.84 buyrate. The buyrate reflects the number of homes which purchased a pay-per-view broadcast. A "1.0" roughly equates to 400,000 separate homes ordering the event.

Some other important news:
  • One of the world's most influential investment firms put WWF stock "on hold" about a month ago. By doing this the firm was basically telling investors to hold onto their stock but not to purchase any more as they don't have much confidence in the company at the present time.

  • Since its initial public offering WWF stock has dropped approximately 40 per cent.

  • The WWF's "Think Again" advertising initiative was recognized as a failure by the company.

    If you examine each of these pieces of information on their own, they don't add up to much. If, however, you put them all together you can't help but to come to the conclusion that if Vince McMahon was only working for the WWF and didn't own it, he would've been fired long ago for the company's recent performance under his management. As the months subsequent to WrestleMania have proven, McMahon and his team of bookers have failed to engage the imagination of the wrestling public. You need not look any further than the conclusion of last Sunday's No Mercy show to gauge how many wrestling fans feel about the WWF's booking. Most of the email I received from fans mocked the decision to resurrect the Austin - McMahon angle once again. "Scraping the bottom of the barrel" and "desperate" were terms that regularly came up in the correspondence.

    Yes, it is true that Vince McMahon will go down as a visionary and a legendary promoter for all he has done in the wrestling business. In fact, some might say that wrestling wouldn't be where it is today without the foresight of one Vince McMahon. Under McMahon, the WWF (much like WCW and ECW) has given us a multitude of classic matches and moments that we will never forget. What I argue is that those momentous contributions are in the past. What has McMahon done lately? What stimulating ideas has he brought to the table since formulating the McMahon - Austin angle and the controversial Attitude campaign years ago? I dare say, nothing at all.

    Things have got even worse since Vince's competition, which he apparently desperately needed to fuel his ambitious nature, dropped out of contention. Since the purchase of WCW and the acquisition of ECW talent, the WWF has coasted along with as little creative effort as possible. Having won the war, McMahon and his family are content to squander precious broadcast time and angles on themselves while some extraordinary and deserving talent sit in the locker room twiddling their thumbs.

    As he said during the aforementioned XFL press conference, the "buck stops" with Vince McMahon. Supervising almost every aspect of the WWF's wrestling broadcasts, it is he who is ultimately responsible for the sorry state the WWF is in now. The WWF is in frantic need of some original ideas. It needs a new direction and that can only happen if the out-of-touch, out-of-step Vince McMahon does what is right and passes on the torch. If not, wrestling fans can expect more the same until a competitor emerges to light a spark under the uninspired World Wrestling Federation and its head honcho Vince McMahon.

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